The FA has suspended Chris Armstrong of Crystal Palace for smoking a private spliff. Our football correspondent calls for a sense of proportion

Dear Graham Kelly

Glenn Moore
Tuesday 07 March 1995 01:02

So the season of sleaze and scandal has claimed another victim. Chris Armstrong, the Crystal Palace striker, has been suspended by the Football Association for failing a drug test, and sent for counselling.

As chief executive of the FA you must be basking in the unfamiliar pleasure of knowing that your organisation's archaic bureacracy has acted with rare speed and firmness. All those "urgent, full and frank" inquiries in the pending tray and you still found time to make an example of Armstrong. Now you can return to investigating the Dublin riot, the Bruce Grobbelaar bribes allegation and George Graham's bung.

But, before you put your head back in the sand, how about a sense of perspective. Armstrong was not caught taking amphetamines or steroids, drugs that could enhance his performance. While cannabis may induce the sensation of floating, it does not actually enable its user to glide past defenders or hang in the air waiting for a cross. In reality it is no more likely to enhance performance than lead boots or a blindfold.

Neither was Armstrong found guilty of using heroin or cocaine, which can both be addictive and life-threatening. He was using a mild recreational drug. It is, admittedly, illegal, but is so tolerated that if Armstrong were caught using it by police in south London, he would receive no more than a caution.

He was not having a toke in the dressing room at half-time, or dealing to impressionable apprentices. He simply had a puff or two in the supposed privacy of his own home. Yet the FA has meted out the same treatment it gave Paul Merson, who not only used cocaine but also ensured his habit received the widest possible currency by confessing to it, for a large payment, in a national tabloid newspaper.

This would seem a fairly clear case of "bringing the game into disrepute", yet Merson was not even fined. Neither was Dennis Wise, who was found guilty last month of assaulting a taxi-driver, or Vinnie Jones, who bit a man's nose in a Dublin hotel full of fans and media.

The FA's view is that neither of these incidents was football-related, this despite Jones having committed his assault hours after England fans had rioted less than a mile away. It is hard to see how Armstrong's actions have been more harmful to the game than those of Wise or Jones. He has been foolish, he has let down his club and his manager, but he has not harmed anyone or sought to cheat.

When it comes to harmful substances alcohol is far worse than cannabis. In football it ruins careers and fuels hooligans. Yet earlier this season England were captained by Tony Adams , a convicted drunk driver.

But alcohol is an acceptable drug. The FA Premier League is sponsored by a brewery, as are Liverpool, Palace's opponents tomorrow. No doubt a crate or two will be downed if they win, perhaps you will join them for a G&T. Or would you prefer a spliff? When it comes to wanting to escape from reality you must have better reason than most.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments